Oct 4, 2013
Jesse

In Which I Reward Myself for Surviving a Third Year

It’s that time again! The time of year where I reward myself for completing basic survival tasks and cover the highlights of the last 365 days. Today Yesterday, October 3, is was my three-year anniversary of living on my own.

I’ll be honest: I almost didn’t have an award ceremony this year. Not because I don’t like collecting badges to celebrate my achievements, but because for the first time, this whole “adult” thing feels like something I am, not something I put on. (Not to say I’m getting better at it or anything. I might argue that I peaked in year two and it’s all YA novels and frozen dinners from here.)

However. I like the idea of rounding this out with year three, and besides, how many formal occasions does a girl get to attend? Cue pomp, circumstance.

We went for a low-key, no-curtain look this year

***

The Hey, What Happened to Your Roommate? Award

You know what's fun about far-away friends? The mail.

This one time, I met a girl on the Internet and we decided to be roommates. It was an excellent decision, and worked out nicely for some time until she moved back to the Internet. I have mostly forgiven her, and that’s mostly because she sends me enough animated gifs on a daily basis that it’s almost like having a roommate.

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The I Thought You Already Had a Cat… Award

She's a lot fluffier than this picture implies

No, but I can see where you might be confused. I catsat for a few months, which gave me the opportunity to warm my landlord up to the idea of me having a cat. Then I gave that cat back, panicked about commitment for a few weeks, and then I brought home Bernadette. She is not technically named after the book, the song, or the Peters, but the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time with each of those things in the last year heavily influenced my decision.

Can I gush for a second? Yeah I can, it’s my blog. Ok, these three years were the longest I’ve lived without animals (barring the mice) ever. It was unpleasant. I was raised with the understanding that animals are essential, so not having any around felt unnatural. I had to resist the urge to dognap dogs on walks. I day-dreamed about cuddling the canadian geese that hang out in parking lots. (They are totally hug-sized. And shaped. Like huggable footballs with necks. I stand by this.) So, now I have my Bernadette. She has transformed from a crabby middle-aged lady in a cage to practically a kitten. There are few things as satisfying as loving a scared little creature until it learns it can trust people again.

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The Didn’t You Blog About Finding a Church Like Two Years Ago? Award

So, they gave me this little cross necklace when I joined. Wasn't that nice of them?

Yeah, but that didn’t work out. Instead I bounced around for a couple more years and tried to figure out what exactly I was looking for. I never really decided what that was, but I seem to have found it. I enjoy going to church for the first time since college. I look forward to it. It’s refreshing and sets me up for the week. It’s a good church.

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The So This Is Why You Talk about Tacos So Much Award

True friends help you attain your dreams...like your dream of owning a brass armadillo

As I was looking back for defining moments over the last year, I realized that I had been to Austin, TX, twice. In fact, one of the reasons that I forgave Roommate for leaving me was that I would get to visit her there. In my two trips to Austin, I saw: tacos, longhorns, bluebonnets, queso, street art, internet friends, Book People, bronies, tacos, stars both big and bright, yarnbombing, BBQ, cacti, irony, a parade of lowriders showing off their hydraulics, tacos, Zooey Deschanel. In my two trips to Austin, I did not see: the famous bridge bats, brass armadillos. In my two trips to Austin, I firmly believe I saw: Ryan Gosling. You people should just believe me. Also, tacos.

***

The What Is It With You And The Celebrity Sightings? Award

It was way to warm to be wearing a felt hat in Texas, Zooey. That was your tell.

For many years, my biggest brush with celebrity (outside of organized meetings like book signings and Disney World character breakfasts) was that one time Oprah’s Stedman ran into me while crossing Michigan Avenue. Then, in the last year, I’ve had three distinct interactions. Now, I’m not saying that celebrities are more special than other people, but I am saying it is fun to see people that you’re used to seeing on giant screens and in magazines completely out of context. Stars! They’re Just Like Us!

1) Ryan Gosling, while walking down South Congress with Sharone and Christine. This is questionable, but I like things in threes and I know he was there that weekend, so we’re going with it.

2) Zooey Deschanel, while standing in line at the a Austin airport. I heard someone talking in ZD’s voice, turned around to look, and a very small, very shiny person in over-sized sunglasses and an unseasonably warm hat clapped a hand over her mouth. She had to take the hat and glasses off for security and looked terrified that she’d be besieged by adorable Austin-dwelling Zooeyites. I have never been so grateful to not need sunglasses and a bodyguard.

3) Anne Lamott at the Picasso in Chicago exhibit at the Art Institute. There I was, minding my own business, trying to appreciate noses on multiple planes or something, when I said to my friend Kristin, “Um, that lady. The blonde one with the dreads. Is that Anne Lamott?” And so commenced a 20 minute very cool, covert Anne Lamott-stalking period. After a little while, I got up the courage to say hello and tell her how much I (and my mom) appreciate her, and she thanked me and turned the conversation to Picasso, and how amazing it was just to be in the same room with something that great. Her whole face crinkles when she smiles.

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The Was I Supposed to Ask About the Tomatoes? Award

Actually, my watering can is shaped like a duck and isn't really functional. I might get a big-girl watering can eventually.

I mean, you don’t have to. But, yes, I did grow a plant that produced food which I could eat. It was good, but next year I should probably remember to water more.

***

And that’s this year, approximately. It was a learning year more than a doing year, really, but that’s ok. Do me a favor and bring your programs out with you. It makes clean-up a lot easier for the ushers.

In case you’re wondering, here’s my first and my second award ceremony.

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May 29, 2013
Jesse

An Explanation of Sorts

20130529-003119.jpgI have a “no apologies” policy with this blog. I know that if I every time there’s a long stretch between posts I write an “Oh my gosh I’m so sorry I haven’t posted” introduction, I’ll shame myself into never posting at all, and that’s not the point of this thing.

(Which might raise the question, what is the point of this thing? We here at Staircase Wit the Blog think that that is an excellent question, and we will totally get back to you on that.)

This year has not gone as planned. I made a lot of promises to myself that I just wasn’t able to keep. I’m a little embarrassed that I made those grand pronouncements at the beginning of the year, and then remade those pronouncements a month later, and now I’m writing this.

So this is a sort of apology, sort of explanation, sort of prime-the-pump kind of blog post. I’m wiping the dust off the ol’ WordPress admin tools and trying to get my fingers to remember what it’s like to type words that aren’t for work emails.

Call this my six month update. (I know it’s May. It’s a long month. Just go with it.) I gave myself two goals this year: get stuff done, and get a cat. While I can’t report that I have a cat, I can say that I have Nefarious Plans, and that they are In Motion. As far as getting things done? Well, does learning things count? I’ve been learning things. Lots of things. About trust and faith and grace and thankfulness. I’ve put in a request to not learn anything new for the rest of the year, but I have a funny feeling that this is not a year for coasting. (Not to say that it’s been a downright terrible year. There have been some amazing highlights and some remarkable blessings thrown in with the hard stuff and as a result of the hard stuff.)

Honestly? I have no idea what this year is going to look like, or if I’m going to do accomplish anything close to what I had planned. I just wanted to do the bloggy equivalent of stretching my legs, flexing my muscles, and getting some of the kinks out of my neck.

So, there’s me. How are you?

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Mar 22, 2013
Jesse

Fox & Squid

I recently faced a major shortcoming in my life. “Major” might be the wrong word. Also maybe not “shortcoming.” The word I’m looking for is whatever you call it when you realize that you really want to hang art on your walls, but you don’t want to/can’t pay more money for it. That word. It’s probably German, like most good words about frugality and desire.

All of this to say, I made some stuff. I wanted some things to hang on my wall, so I went to my old standbys: an X-acto knife and some pretty paper.

What I like about making pictures this way is that I can’t exactly draw, but I really like looking at things and breaking them down into their most basic shapes, and then making a sort of puzzle, except I’m both making the pieces and then putting them together.

I made the first thing around the time I read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. The book wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, but I loved the cover and the image of the orange fox in the white snow (and it reminded me a bit of this that I made a few Christmases ago). Also, we had a few foxes in our yard and on our street growing up, and they’re such pretty, graceful animals. (Sometimes we mistook them for stray cats. Hilarity ensued.)

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I was tempted to make Blue Boy and Pinkie foxes, but then they released the first ever footage of the giant squid, and I had cephalopods on the brain even more than I usually do. So, now it’s more like Fox Boy and Squidy, but let’s never call them that.

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I hung them in these gold frames that I found at a thrift store. I’m pretty sure I made a solemn oath to not hang the frames without painting something less gaudy, but I’m also pretty sure oaths made via text message while in the throes of thrifting aren’t admissible in a court of law. Or my apartment.

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I thought that how I made this last thing was sort of interesting, so I’d write it like a tutorial, because I have a deep and true love of DIY blogs. I hold that I have loved ampersands since before it was cool to love ampersands. My proof is that I searched the entire internet for ampersand-themed jewelry back in 2008 and found not a thing. Now you can buy ampersand earrings at every hipster craft fair (and believe me, I do), but I still love them and put them everywhere in my house. I considered trying to free-hand an ampersand to frame, but I had a feeling that that would be disastrous. I was going to print a template, but that would have involved a lot of wires and ink and seemed vaguely bad-retro, so I did this instead.

Using Your iPad as a Lightbox to Make a Pretty Thing

What You’ll Need:
an iPad
scotch tape
tissue paper
X-acto knife
pretty paper in two colors
rubber cement

Decide what letter or punctuation mark you’d like to make. I recommend ampersands because they are prettiest, but you can have opinions, too. Type that character into the iPad word processor of your choice in the font of your choice and in the largest possible font size. (I used Pages so I could use Apple’s default fonts, and the font I used was Didot.)

Take a screenshot of that character by pressing the on/off switch and the home button on your iPad at the same time. This gives an image to manipulate, and is much easier to deal with than an iPad word document.

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Open the image in Photos. This is where the tracing and the tissue paper comes in. My tissue paper was purple and wrinkled, but this probably isn’t necessary. You could even use real tracing paper if you’re that kind of fancy. Cut a piece of tissue paper to be a little larger than the screen of your iPad, and wrap it around, taping on the back of the device. At this point, I laid my frame on the screen and adjusted the size of the ampersand. (The touchscreen still works through the tissue paper. Magic.)

Trace the image with a pencil, but be careful to keep your hand off the screen, or you’ll move the image around. If you do move the image, just move it back using what you’ve already traced as a guideline. It’s kind of like a really easy puzzle from a Nancy Drew game. You know, if you’re into that kinda thing.

Untape the tissue paper from the iPad, being careful not to rip it. Trim the tissue paper down, and tape it to your pretty paper. I like using scrapbook paper because it’s nice and thick and acid free, and you can find every color, texture, and pattern known to man if you go to one of the scrapbooker’s holy places, like Archivers.

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Cut out the character with your X-acto knife. What I love about using X-acto knives is that you’re practically drawing with a knife. (But if you make a mistake, you can’t erase. Work slowly.) Be careful around corners; it’s easy to overshoot. I usually work out from inside corners, which keeps the overshooting at bay.

Glue your cut-out down with rubber cement. I use Q-tips for the small details. Trim your paper to the size of your frame, hang it, and feel proud of yourself. Text a picture of it to your mom.

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With all the weirdness that’s been going on with Google Reader and Feedburner and RSS and all those things lately, I thought I’d throw this out there: If you like this blog and want to keep up with it, why don’t you subscribe by email? Enter your email below:


 


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Feb 28, 2013
Jesse

Staircase Review, Vol. 2

20130228-235534.jpgCan I call these posts “volumes”? I’m not sure. I just went around and looked at all the magazines in my house (some Martha Stewart Livings and a few literary journals, and the two InStyles from 2006 that are currently employed in maintaining the shape of my brown boots) and could not find a defined industry standard, and THEN I remembered that that’s why God made the CMOS, but just when I opened my copy, I realized that I was really just procrastinating because I gave myself a job, and that job is to write this post, which means that looking up magazine issue numbering styles is only slightly more interesting than usual and why am I even trying to categorize this with magazines, it’s a blog post, and also have I even seen the inside of my medicine cabinet? I really need to take care of that mess. When I’m done writing this post. Because I have an attention span. Like an adult.

So. These are some books I have read recently.


Bel Canto by Ann PatchettBel Canto by Ann Patchett
Bel Canto is the story of a Japanese businessman, Hosokawa, who cares about one thing, and that thing is opera. Hosokawa is invited to meet his favorite soprano at a state event in (an unnamed) South American and goes, knowing that the party is given in his honor, that the South Americans will expect this party to open up trade, and knowing that he will not do any business with the country beyond this party. He goes to see Roxanne Coss, the soprano. The party is hijacked by Spanish-speaking freedom fighters, who, in their confusion, kidnap everyone at the party: Russian business men, French diplomats, American Coss, Japanese Hosokawa, and his translator. There is no common language but the music.

The book feels like a dream. Most of the dialogue goes through the translator, which almost gives it the feeling of listening to a conversation through a glass against a door. (Sometimes I forgot the translator is there until I see him standing in the corner, translating the conversation I was reading reading, and then I was kind of mad at Patchett because how in the world do you do that with just words?) Relationships form around the sopranos singing, and the hostages and kidnappers begin to build a community, and the reader learns about this through a constantly changing perspective. The book is beautiful and hopeful and heartbreaking, as all the best books are. This is a book I will read again and again.

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma StraubLaura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
Elsa Emerson has grown up in the theater her parents own in Door County, Wisconsin. All she wants is to be on the stage, and once she gets her first part, all she needs is to go to Hollywood. Elsa finds her way, is transformed to Laura Lamont, and climbs her way up to being a real-live movie star.

I like this book because it feels like I could switch out the names and it could be about any starlet. It’s a small story about a larger-than-life time and place. It’s a peek behind the kitchen curtains of the beautiful black-and-white women I’ve always watched, but it’s written in a way that feels true, not voyeuristic. I read this just before listening to Beautiful Ruins, and they were almost perfect companions. While Laura Lamont follows the story of one woman through her childhood on the stage, grown-up stardom, and (spoiler alert) eventual aging, Beautiful Ruins twists five or six storylines together to tell a similar story on a grander scale about golden-age Hollywood, success, failure, love and loss.

Around the Internet
The Extraordinary Science of Junkfood
This is how they get you. There’s nothing in here about Trader Joe’s new rocket-ship-shaped cheese crackers, probably because things shaped like rocket ships are intrinsically healthful.

The Secret Burrito
Speaking of which, this burrito is my new life goal. It’s not even that it sounds that good, it’s just that I like secret burrito codes.

Adventures in Amish Fiction
A lit fic reader takes a look at Amish fiction.

Fireside Magazine Year 2
Remember when I told you about Fireside Magazine and how it’s a fiction magazine dedicated to good stories and paying the writers who write them? Well, they’re working on funding year two of the magazine. It’s kind of a long story, but if the Kickstarter gets funded, I get a share in a pony. So, check it out and consider donating.

Happy March, happy people. This is my favorite month, and not just because I have 31 days to drink 31 shamrock shakes.


By the way, that photo is from the library at the Irish American Heritage Center, where I spent a few hours with my family last weekend. This explains why book titles are in a language you can’t read. Unless you read Gaelic, in which case we should have a discussion about how you’re supposed to tell me when you can read Gaelic.

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Feb 13, 2013
Jesse

Happy New Year…Again

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I believe very strongly that you are what you do, not what you aspire to do. This sounds like a bad self-help book, but let me explain.

If I introduced myself to you as Jesse, a musician, you would probably, politely, ask me what instrument I play. Oh, I don’t really play anything, I’d reply. I’d like to play something. Sometimes I think very hard about how I’d like a guitar. Maybe I’ll even buy one and take lessons one day. I imagine the conversation would get uncomfortable at this point, and we’d start talking talking about the weather.

You are what you make time to do right now. You are what you prioritize. When I was little, I read books every spare minute I could. I was a reader. Do you know what makes me a reader now? That I read books. Not that I did read books 20 years ago. That I read books now.

I’m not trying to make any grand statements about identity and what it means. That’s above my pay grade. There is more to you than what you do, obviously. What I am trying to say is that if I call myself a writer, but spend all my free time organizing my cabinets because I’m too scared or too intimidated to sit down and write, then I’m not a writer, I’m a person with these great gray shelf liners that really pull my mismatched mugs together. (For real. It’s so orderly in there.)

I also don’t mean that it’s wrong to have more than one thing going on, or that it’s wrong to be in a season of life that changes your priorities or moves them out of your control. I do think that you need to be honest with yourself about why your priorities are different and if they’re really out of your control. Of course, when I say “you,” I mean “me.”

Today a friend asked me how often I write. I rounded the number up and then hid under my keyboard.

January was a stupid month. It was supposed to be a blank slate: Roommate moved back home, 2013 began, and I had a fresh start. I was going to get things done. Instead, I watched a lot of StarTrek. I was sick for a good chunk of the month, and for the rest I felt like a failure relationally, emotionally, professionally, spiritually, domestically, financially, automobily. Some things were not my fault (my car needed a new axel!), some things were (I backed into a parked car!).

I’m not totally sure what January being a dumb month has to do with being what you do, but I do know that I’m tired. I feel like a failure and like I can’t handle this stuff on my own. Like this might be what it feels like to learn humility and to depend on Christ and I don’t like it one bit.

I can’t changes my circumstances, but I can change how I respond to them. I can understand my limits. I can learn. Anne Lamott likes to say that you can start a new 24-hour period any time you like. I want to say that I’m going to apply that to my year, but not in a way that means I get a blank slate. Consequences are okay. I need to learn what I’m learning. I can’t do this by myself and I wasn’t made to. What I want is to drive a stake in the ground to mark the time when I stopped hiding and stopped moping. To take this 45 day period for what it was, and keep trudging. To do what I must do. Happy New Year. Carry on.

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Jan 17, 2013
Jesse

Staircase Review, Vol. 1

books and books and booksOnce upon a time, when I started this blog, I wanted it to be a book review blog. But I didn’t really know what I was doing or how much work that would be, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t a book review blog anymore. It was a sometimes-I-talk-about-what’s-going-on-in-my-life kinda blog and that’s about where’s it’s at now.

However, books are included in “what’s-going-on-in-my-life” and so what I am going to try to do is a sort of monthly recap of what I’m reading and what I think about it.

My current reading system is to keep my unread books on a shelf in my bedroom where they can stare me down with their uncracked spines, and then move completed books down to my spare staircase, where they can get dusty and look out the window. (Current books stay in my purse where they can have coffee spilled on them.) And so, I’m going to call this semi-regular feature “Staircase Review.” Because I’m reviewing books which I have recently moved to my staircase! And my blog’s name is “Staircase Wit”! It’s all making sense now! Right?

This won’t be a complete list of everything I’ve read, but it’ll cover the highlights. I’ll also talk about some of the articles I’ve read, because, well, I tend to read a lot of those.

 


 

Quiet by Susan Cain (audiobook)
In my last post I mentioned that I spent most of my Christmas trip home talking about introversion and extroversion. This book is why. Cain spent much of the book making it okay to be in introvert. She explained an introvert’s value and how modern society has pushed that value aside. It was encouraging, but after a while I wanted more practical ideas on how to function as an introvert in this extroverted world. (I imagine that someone who grew up in a less supportive household than I did might appreciate the encouragement more.)

There were three points that Cain made that I thought were particularly interesting (which means that I thought they were true of me): 1) Introverts will “go extrovert” for things which they are passionate about, 2) the American Church values extroverts, often overlooks introverts for leadership positions, and has pretty much thrown out quiet and reflection, and 3) that introverts like collaborating online and often have an easier time expressing themselves internetly, to which I said, “well hello, all of my Internet friends.”

Overall, I thought this was a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s ever been told that they’re a little too quiet.

I really like the fox in this.The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
I wanted this book to be perfect. It’s a fairy tale about snow, and that should be my favorite thing. It’s a retelling of a Russian fairy tale about an old childless couple who build a baby for themselves out of snow.  Ivey set the book in 1920s Alaska and made the old man and woman a quiet and sad mismatched couple from the east coast. It seemed that Ivey was trying to keep a balance between a dreamy fairyland and a hyperreal claim town. Instead, it felt like she teeter-tottered: Magical snow storm! Thump. Let’s gut a moose! Thump. Sullen man-dialog. Thump. Let’s make this chapter italic! Th-thump!

I thought Ivey’s use of geography was confusing. For example: the main characters moved wayyyy out into the middle of the wilderness to be alone and sad together, but they’re close enough to their neighbor’s house for dinner. Everyone is terribly far away, but just close enough to come set a spell. The snow child would run far, far away, but then it would only take a few minutes to get her home. Maybe this was supposed to add to the mystical feeling of the Alaskan wilderness, but instead I just had a difficult time getting a picture of the place in my head.

It’s possible that I wanted this book to be something that it wasn’t supposed to be, so it might not be fair of me to be so harsh. It was a pretty story and I learned a lot about how to clean game that wasn’t covered in Little House on the Prairie. While I couldn’t get a decent map in my head, I did love the cold, open atmosphere of the book and the sad, quiet feeling with which it left me. It isn’t a perfect book, but it is perfect for the snowless winter we’re having in Chicago.

Thanks, Grandma. Fireside Magazine, Winter 2012
This is the third issue of Fireside Magazine, and it is most certainly the best yet. Fireside Magazine was started by my friend Brian White when he decided there should be a place for fiction writers to publish good stories…and also get paid well for them. Each issue has four short stories and a comic. The first story, and my favorite, “Form and Void,” takes place in futuristic world where humans, at least the wealthy ones, have the ability to splice their genes in order to shape their bodies and download their memories into precious stones. I love the image of the spoiled girl adorning herself with all her memories of past slights. It’s worth the price of the magazine. The rest of the stories are terrifying, thought-provoking, maybe a little absurd, and good.

 

 

 

Around the Internet…

Downton Abbey, Season 3
Seth Stevenson has been one of my favorite columnists for years, and just because he loves me back, he’s writing recaps of Downton Abbey every Monday.

Why The Atlantic’s Scientology Advertorial was Bad
The Church of Scientology bought space to run an article praising the Church of Scientology in The Atlantic. Then The Atlantic deleted any comments on the article that were critical of Scientology. This was bad. This article by Erin Kissane explains why.

RIP, Aaron Swartz 
The very sad end of a very smart man. This isn’t about me, but there is something unsettling about the tragic death of someone who is my age, who grew up in my city, and whose work wasn’t finished.

Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds
I thought you’d want to know, is all.

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Jan 4, 2013
Jesse

Capital-R Resolutions

This is what my to do lists look like. Except this one doesn't have anything on it because the year is just starting. It's probably symbolic.

I’ve said it before: I am not big on Resolutions.

I don’t like capital-R-Resolutions because I spend so much of my time making up everyday resolutions (the small ones like eat better, exercise, get enough sleep) that I can’t keep that the idea of making and breaking a Big, Important Resolution is frightening.

I am in a constant state of attempted self-improvement. Somewhere in a description of my particular Myers-Briggs* profile, it says that INFJs “constantly define and re-define the priorities in their lives” and “put a lot of energy into finding the best system for getting things done.” Imagine, if you will, trying to find the best system for accomplishing a constantly changing set of priorities. It’s not just trying to hit a moving target, it’s trying to design a prettier target while wearing roller-skates.

Because I know that I have this weakness for trying to be better, I usually avoid making big goals. The small ones take up enough brainspace, thank you very much. For the last two years, my Big Goals and Capital-R Resolutions have been very general: Have More Adventures, Be Less Afraid, Read More Books. These are very good resolutions; I’ve had two very good years. I’ve traveled on my own and with others. I’ve met and loved lots of new people and I’ve learned that sometimes friendships need to end. I’ve learned how to read again, and I’ve had so many good conversations.

Like I said: these are good. Maybe I needed two years of these inward, almost selfish goals so that could I learn how to belong to myself. Now those goals hardened into character traits and I need to move forward.

So, I’d like to announce that 2013 is The Year of Getting Stuff Done. (I don’t mean that this is a year dedicated to the David Allen book. Although, I imagine that might help.)

What does this mean, exactly? This means I’m going to do what I say I will do. I will answer emails and finish blog posts. I will get enough sleep to be able to function as a real human. I will eat like a grown up. I will stop confusing myself with changing goals and shifting priorities and I will focus on what I really need and want. I will do the things I must do, even if they are in the morning and even if that morning is on a weekend.

I know. This is some serious shoot.

OH. I almost forgot. I’m also gonna get a cat. It’s time. That means either have to talk my landlords into letting me have one or move out of my cute little apartment. I know. That means I want a cat more than I want to stay in the apartment I’ve spent the last two years cutifying. I told you this was serious.

In sum, this year I will get:

1) stuff done.

2) a cat.

This is going to be a busy year.


*I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about Myers-Briggs profiles. It’s done quite a bit in helping me understand myself and other people. If you don’t know your type, I highly recommend figuring that out. Here’s a link to a test, but I haven’t taken this particular one and can’t vouch for the results.

 

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Nov 6, 2012
Jesse

Reading Slump

Open Books Store in Chicago. If you haven't been there, you're a ninny. “You have impressive powers of concentration,” said the woman at the fountain in the park. I blinked at her. “You know, with all these kids running around.” I laughed. The kids were white noise, like the fountain and the cicadas. The kids were, to be honest, appreciated. If they were there, I was more likely to concentrate, to keep up the appearance of being the girl who sits by the fountain and reads.

Once the kids left, I took my book and walked the path around using the motion of my walking to force myself to concentrate on the words. It’s a small park with a lot of low-hanging branches. I got really good at ducking. It was almost like exercise, I imagine.

The reason that I was so intent on my walking and reading was that, for about 18 months, I suffered from a reading slump. I couldn’t concentrate, I DNF’d a dozen books, and I didn’t particularly enjoy anything I managed to finish.

I don’t really know what the issue was. I’ve never gone a protracted amount of time without being able to read.

Eventually, I complained to a friend, and he did what friends are supposed to do in such circumstances: he lent me a really good book. I finished the book on an airplane, and bought a second on my layover. I finished that one and started a third book. This doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary, but I hadn’t done anything like that in a very long time. It felt great.

Since then, I’ve been slowly building up my tolerance.

I would classify myself as mostly cured. It’s been probably six months since I’ve felt any sort of dread about reading, so I’m going to say I’m doing ok. As such, I thought I might make a list of the things I’ve done to help me return to being a reader in the hopes that it might help anyone else out there who is going through a similar trial.

1. Social Reading
If I were to list my favorite discoveries of 2012, the list would probably look like this: 1) Peanut Butter Shakes, 2) Book Clubs.

Book clubs provide this unique environment where you sit in a room with a bunch of people you like (preferably) and eat snacks (essential) and everyone must talk about the book which you have all read (usually).

Those are the rules. I didn’t even make them up. I know.

It brings me this feeling of glee that I haven’t had since I was six and made all activities into clubs. Back then I had to rig elections and make myself president in order to make rules that good. (Side note: both neighbor kids would have made terrible presidents. I was being kind.)

Book clubs provide a gentle accountability. No one’s going to throw a heavy volume at your head if you don’t finish your reading, but if you don’t read, you miss out on fun discussion. Through the magic of book clubs, I’ve finished two longish books this year that I might not have finished otherwise.

2. “Social” Reading
One of the other great joys of this year has been my very serious implementation of GoodReads. I followed Roommate’s lead and started listing my books by years read, and this created a small obsession. (It was a large obsession for a few weeks. Don’t worry, I have everything cataloged back to eighth grade. I stopped there for my own sanity and also because I was getting worried text messages from GR friends.)

The act of adding a book to my list and watching my 2012 numbers grow is extremely satisfying.

3. Book Polygamy
When I was little, I abhorred the thought of reading more than one book at a time. I didn’t think it was possible to love more than one book at a time, or to give them the attention they deserved.

This is silly: I’m not sitting on my couch, left eye on Kavalier and Clay, right eye on Travels with Charley. That would give me a headache. What I am doing is reading K&C at a pace that works with my book group, and TwC between times. It also gives me the freedom to get bored with something I’m reading, to set it aside, and to come back to it later.

4. Audiobook Listening
Listening to audiobooks is the grown-up version of having bed-time stories read to you. Then, you used bed time stories to put off the very unpleasant task of going to sleep. Now you can apply that same principle to make just about any activity better. I like to listen to audiobooks while washing dishes, driving in traffic, and cleaning out terrifying closets.

During my reading slump, audiobooks were just about the only way I could make myself pay attention to a story. I am indebted to them.

5. Reading Aloud
Here’s a secret: I really like reading aloud. To myself. Alone. I know this sounds incredibly narcissistic. Possibly weird. However. It’s true. I don’t like reading poetry any other way. If there’s a book I really love, sometime I have to read it aloud just so I can experiences it through more than once sense. I’ve also found that I can pay better attention when I’m physically engaged in the book (this is sort of the same as the walking and reading thing I talked about earlier.)

If you don’t believe me, rent your self a little apartment, make some tea, and try it. It’s probably my favorite way to spend a Sunday evening.

There you have it: Those are the five things I did to end my terrible, terrible slump.  I hope they can save you from the same.

Also, now I’m curious. Have you ever had a terrible, horrible reading slump? How’d you get over it?

 


 
That photo was taken at Open Books Store in Chicago. It’s one of my favorite places. You should go.

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Nov 2, 2012
Jesse

Roommates Assemble! Or Disassemble…Whatever.

The Roommate is out of town for a few days.

This means that I have to pull all my “living alone” skills out of corner of the attic where I’ve been keeping them since she came along.  I’m listening to music without headphones and without guilt. I’m back to saying “hello” and “good-bye” to my apartment when I come and go. I’m vacillating between frozen dinners or an overly elaborate crock-pot stew for the weekend. I’ve got a new audiobook for doing dishes to. Heck, I’m even going to do the dishes.

Last time the Roommate was gone for a few days, she went to ComicCon. Not to be outdone superhero-wise, I invited the Cap and Thor to hang out here with me. I’ve recorded our activities here for posterity.

 ***

Thor said the stringy Swiss cheese reminded him of his flowing locks. Cap insisted on calling it “freedom onion soup.”

***

Captain America believes in safety first. Thor believes our roads “lack pizzazz.”

***

I had no idea Mjølner was so good for pressing difficult collars.

***

 Thor said that weather-controlling demigods don’t need to wear dish-washing gloves. This kind of hurt Cap’s feelings.
***

 

***
The pizza, of course, made our strict fitness regimen all the more important.
***

 

 

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Oct 16, 2012
Jesse

Jar Jar Bling

What mysterious objects are these?A few weeks ago, I left work early on a Friday afternoon. I had been slowed down by a bad cold all week, and finally realized that staring at my computer, considering my immanent death was actually not very productive. I went home and threw myself down on the couch with the intention of reading DIY blogs until I fell asleep.

As I flipped through the blogs, catching up on Young House Love and Yellow Brick Home and some others, I wondered if Make a Wish granted wishes for people with very bad colds and if Mindy Kaling and Emily Henderson would cooperate with them to grant my wish and we could all spend the day together antiquing in LA and then become the very best of friends and I’d miraculously recover from my cold and but we’d already be best friends and promise to reunite every fall for a good ol’ girls weekend. I actually have this day dream quite often.

I opened a post from Emily Henderson. In it, she had to figure out how to fill a giant shelving unit in a cohesive, inexpensive way. (As I write this, I understand that it might not sound very exciting. I think it probably sounds that way to you because you don’t read enough interior design blogs. You should really adjust that.) To fill these shelves, she decided to paint the insides of dozens of mason jars in gradient shades of blue and spray paint the tops gold. Instant (almost) art installation. “Hey, it’s like a cross between the tomato soup guy and the guy with the gold statue things!” I thought to my sick-self. (My sick-self is even worse than my well-self with names.)

I lay on my couch in my stuffy-headed stupor. I wished that I had a giant antique shelving unit that needed to be filled with painted jars. Alas, there was no room in my tiny apartment for even a small shelving unit that needed to be filled with painted jars. I pulled my afghan over myself and started to burrow into the couch.

There is only one window in my living room. It’s tall and narrow and faces south, so the room gets direct light for only a few hours a day. At the moment I was settling in to sleep, a shaft of light hit the shelf above my couch. I had hung the thrift-store shelf back in March, but never really knew what to put on it. I had filled it with odds and ends, but was generally annoyed with the placement and that I couldn’t get anything to be the right scale, and I knew that when Emily Henderson came over to hang out, she would see it and it would put a dark mark on our friendship. When the light hit that shelf, a light went on in my addled brain. I knew that this was deeply significant. “Tomorrow,” I said to myself, “tomorrow I will feel better and paint jars.”

Lookit that unstyled shelf. Don't you feel bad for it?

The next morning, I still felt terrible. Terrible and determined. In my attic, I had a box of old lab bottles that my uncle gave me when the chemistry plant where he worked was remodeled. They were all sorts of shapes and sizes, but whenever I tried to arrange them on a shelf, they just looked blank. But never again: my muddled mind had made the connection between Emily Henderson’s jars, my uncle’s bottles, and this post from Yellow Brick Home, and my muddled mind was ready to get some work done. I collected my strength and shuffled into the attic. I found the bottles, sorted, and washed them, taking breaks to throw myself dramatically on the couch.

See, they're pretty, but bland. Not bad, but you wouldn't necessarily go out of your way to hang out with them.

This was about all I could manage on Saturday. Well, this and fevered proclamations to Roommate that I was going to gold leaf everything in the apartment. I alternated between watching episodes of Secrets from a Stylist online and imagining each individual thing in our apartment gold-leafed. It was highly therapeutic.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I was done being sick–at least psychologically. Around 4pm I dragged myself out of bed and to the craft store. This might not have been the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Have you ever been to a craft store just before Halloween when you are sort of dizzy with the flu? I felt like I was having a bad trip and I don’t even know what that means.

The actual painting process only took a few minutes. I was going for a “dipped” look, so I eyeballed different paint heights for the three identical cylindrical jars. I thought painting a straight line on the super-cool triangley flask one would be boring, so I grabbed a dry erase marker and traced a sort of cock-eyed shape onto it. (I just rubbed the dry erase mark off with my finger when I was done painting.) I just painted the little stopper of the red jar. (I propped it up in my empty box of Gypsy Cold Care Tea. Nothing makes you feel better than tea made by Gypsies.)

Bottles and Gypsy magic.

I let the jars dry and did a second coat. The paint was really fumey, so I kept them by an open window until they stopped stinking up the place. (I try not to give Roommate cancer.)

My Three Jars! This is actually a really boring show.

 

This was only a very small project, but the reason it felt blog-worthy was that it was the first time in ages that I felt compelled to do something with my hands. This summer I felt like I didn’t have the brainspace to keep myself fed and watered, much less make cute things. The fact that I just had to get these jars painted felt like a return to myself. It was a decided end to my stressful summer. It was nice.

So…takeaways from this blog post include:

1. Read more DIY blogs.
2. Don’t go to craft stores unless you’re feeling at 100%.
3. Make time to do the things you love to do.
4. Paint everything gold. For real. It’s so pretty.

All done. Emily Henderson might approve.

I didn't paint the one with the sticker on it because that sticker is from science and science is cool.


Once again, I have instagrammed all the photos. I’ll stop when I get all the coffee grounds out of my real camera.

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It contains generally amusing anecdotes and stories of adventures of all sizes. If found, please return this blog to all your friends and family.

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